Missionary Murdered in Yap, Micronesia (Kirsten Elisabeth Wolcott)

Multiple media outlets are reporting that Kirsten Elisabeth Wolcott, a Seventh-day Adventist student missionary, has been murdered on the island of Yap, in the central Pacific island nation of Micronesia.

The Adventist News Network (ANN) cites unnamed SDA church leaders who explained, "Kirsten, a native of Virginia, had reportedly gone jogging by herself before morning classes and did not return."

Miss Wolcott, 20, was a 2007 graduate of Richmond Academy. She had taken a year off of school at Southern Adventist University in Collegedale, Tennessee. Kirsten was participating in the Adventist Volunteer Service program, and was one of 780+ student missionaries serving worldwide in that group.

Yap is one of four states in the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), an island nation in the central Pacific with close historical and economic ties to the United States. The FSM was established in 1979 after five decades of direct US-control through a region-wide United Nation overseen Trust Territory.

In 1983, the US and FSM governments entered into a status of Free Association. The ongoing agreement provides Micronesia with significant financial assistance in exchange for US defense rights in the region. It also allows for open and reciprocal travel rights for both countries' citizens, as well as access for Micronesian nationals to US social services and entitlements.

Under these terms, the Seventh-day Adventists, and other Christian missionaries, have expanded their presence in the islands, primarily through the construction of parochial K-12 schools.

The Yap SDA School opened in 1987 as an elementary school and subsequently expanded to a kindergarten through 12th-grade school.  The school is run mostly by Adventist college students volunteering as teachers. About 10 student missionaries are now serving there. The church also has a school on the Micronesian capital of Pohnpei. Both schools are widely seen as among the best in the developing island nation.

Habele, a charity serving Outer Island students across Micronesia, has been partnering with the SDA School on Yap since 2007. The US- based nonprofit works with school leaders to identify low-income Outer Island student whose families are unable to afford the modest $550 a year tuition fees. Habele issued six full tuition scholarships to students attending the Yap SDA School this 2009-10 academic year.

The last known death of a Christian Missionary killed by local islanders in Micronesia occurred in 1731. Father Contova and a group of Spanish solders were murdered on the Atoll of Ulithi, 100 miles east of Yap. Another six Spanish Jesuits died in Micronesia during World War Two, presumably at the hands of the occupying Japanese.

The US State Department had advised American travelers of crime in the neighboring state of Chuuk -long seen as more violent than other areas of Oceania- but has not issued personal alerts for visitors to Yap State.

Yap and its Outer Islands have a reputation for non-confrontationalism and traditional consensus-based dispute resolution. Nationwide, Micronesia has an incarceration rate of only 89 prisoners per 100,000 citizens.

Photo: Annaliza Laitilpiy, a 2nd grade student from the Atoll of Woleai, stands outside the SDA School on Yap. 

UPDATE: Informal reports from Yap indicate that a suspect is now in custody. These sources explain that the deceased was found on the dirt road between Tom's store and SDA school by her students, whom the principal sent out to look for her in the morning. Kirsten, and avid runner, was often seen jogging and people on the small island knew her well because of this.